5 Priorities for Panama's new Environment Ministry

Last week Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela signed into the law the existence of the Environment Ministry, formerly the National Environment Authority (ANAM). This move signals that environmental issues will receive more consideration as Panama's political agenda develops.

Mirei Endara, the head of the new ministry, outlined five priority areas in a recent interview:

1. Changing the Ministry's procedures to be more efficient and transparent, looking specifically at technology investments. This would include an analysis of the Ministry's environmental impact study framework to identify areas of improvement.

2. Stimulating eco-tourism in protected areas. Tourism in general has been growing in Panama over the past few years, but this has contributed to over-development in sensitive environmental areas.

3. The Alliance to Reforest 1 million hectares of trees over the next 20 years. Announced several months ago, this initiative could mean more incentives for smallholder farmers to plant trees on their deforested land.

4. Addressing climate change by promoting low-carbon development.

5. Water, including better management of watersheds, increasing access to clean water in rural areas, and better information and monitoring systems. This would start with a baseline inventory of all the water systems in Panama to understand their quality and integrity, though it's not certain that would extend all the way out into the types of rural villages where we work.

We'll be watching and reporting out on these items as we see new developments.

Costa Rican officials also battling cocobolo logging

An official points out heartwood of an illegally felled cocobolo tree. Photo courtesy of the  Diario Extra .

An official points out heartwood of an illegally felled cocobolo tree. Photo courtesy of the Diario Extra.

In Panama, cocobolo fever (el fiebre de cocobolo) is rising, as the dry season moves into its second month. But it's not limited to Panama. In Costa Rica, officials are battling illegal harvesting of the precious wood, facing a "mafia" that is becoming ever more sophisticated in how they smuggle the wood to market. Here's the full story (Spanish).

According to the latest International Tropical Timber Organization report, a cubic meter of cocobolo (dalbergia retusa), in one port at least, is selling for nearly $8,500. As a point of reference, a cubic meter of teak is going for around $1280.

Cocobolo doesn't tend to develop heartwood until it's more mature, so ours should be safe for now. But come year 20, we might need a small army to fend off opportunistic loggers.

Read more about the cocobolo frenzy in our previous blogs here, here, here, and here.

Photos from January 2015 trip

Last month we took a group of visitors down to Panama to visit our forestry projects, meet local partner communities, and explore the incredible biodiversity in the Darien. Here are some photos from the trip.

Update on Kiva Loans

Partner David standing in front of some of his existing plantain trees

Partner David standing in front of some of his existing plantain trees

Late in July we closed a plantain loan on Kiva, a microlending platform that supports entrepreneurs and projects in the developing world. The $6,000 loan will cover the costs of a plantain project with our partner David, including seed stock, fertilizer, fencing materials, and technical assistance.

This latest one closes out our round of seven plantain loans, all with our smallholder and Indigenous partners in Panama. We are already starting to harvest plantains from project funded with our 2013 loans, and look forward to hopefully renewing an agreement with Kiva to continue doing these high-impact projects.

With our remaining credit line, we plan to fundraise on Kiva for longer term timber projects, that will deliver more revenue and opportunity for our Panamanian partners.

We took this set of videos to demonstrate the process of seeding the plantains in the nursery prior to planting.

Panama's Alliance for 1 Million Plan and What the Forestry Law Needs

Panama's Alliance for 1 Million Plan and What the Forestry Law Needs

Last week ANCON (Panama’s Association for the Conservation of Nature), the Panama Association for Reforestation (ANARAP), and the Panama Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture (CCIAP) announced a 20-year project called the "Alliance for One Million".

The vision of the project is to reforest or afforest one million hectares of forest in Panama, strengthening Panama's forest sector, helping the country meet its CO2 emission goals, and helping to meet the goals laid out in Panama's National Forestry plan.

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